Gaps in inventory at Travel Aggregators (Travel Metasearch Engines)


This blog post should be read from the perspective of helping travelers make smarter decisions while addressing the gaps I see in existing travel aggregation sites like Kayak & Mobissimo.

This post is not intended to be a hit piece. I strongly advocate you using travel aggregators but I just want you to know what you’re getting.

As always, companies improve, features get added and inventory gaps are filled and that’s in the best interest of the traveler and aggregator.

NO FRILLS INVENTORY GAP

An effective travel aggregator needs to search all airlines & travel agencies for a particular destination to yield the greatest benefit for the traveler. Sounds simple enough but the % of total inventory really drops if you’re searching flights originating outside of the United States and until recently for domestic routes. And the % drops further when you exclude the full breadth of consolidator fares that I’ll get to this later in this post.

If I’m doing an air search from Los Angeles to Boston then I am best served and the travel aggregator is most effective when I get 100% of the airlines that cover that route.  Emphasis on the word best. There is value in the current results but I’m looking beyond that. I want the best results not just pretty good results. For example, Southwest Airlines hasn’t been integrated into Kayak (as of the time I’m writing this blog post) so anybody searching Los Angeles Boston as of this very moment is by definition not being offered every option in the search results.

100% of the inventory for a route is a requirement for the traveler to get the best deal in the shortest amount of time. Which is the ultimate point of a travel aggregator. Capturing all the inventory for a given route is a monumental task so in the meantime consumers need to factor this inventory gap when searching fares.

What I don’t want to see is improvements on a lot of other things and this issue gets sidelined and misclassified as a a ‘nice to have’ when it’s absolutely a ‘need to have’. I’m realistic in suggesting travel aggregators start integrating no frills carriers for high volume  routes since they can pull a report with popular city pairs and cross reference the list to routes flown by low cost carriers.

In fairness, I do like that Southwest Airlines is listed in the left hand side when I searched Los Angeles Boston so I am tipped off but other city pair searches are not as generous.

It could be a lack of integration, a lack of intention on the part of the airline and/or aggregator, maybe they didn’t get around to it. Maybe an airline was in the search results and was taken off for business reasons. I don’t claim to know why but that’s not the point.

I do know the results – at this point in time for this particular route – are not comprehensive and consumers need to know this. Savvy travelers know these inventory gaps exist but not everybody. ‘Everybody’ is exactly who travel aggregators are increasingly marketing themselves to.

In the previous example the traveler could directly search the Southwest website but this assumes they they know Southwest services that route. That’s a big if. Los Angeles Boston somebody may know but who knows the routes for lesser known city pairs. The whole point is to go to one place and search everything and move on with life.

I don’t mean to pick on Kayak, this scenario could just as well apply to another aggregator. A comprehensive search is the ultimate goal for any travel aggregator because that’s what is best for the traveler.

And what about large, reputable low-cost carriers in Europe or Asia? If the low cost airline everybody and their brother in Hong Kong or Dubai knows about is not in the searched site list then (a) I am possibly not getting the best deal and (b) the aggregator risks brand dilution when I come to find out Airline XYZ was left out.

Conversely if the travel aggregator knows they have 100% of the airlines between LAX and BOS in the search results then please tell me. Consumers would love that and it’s a great competitive edge.

CONSOLIDATOR AIRFARE INVENTORY GAP

If the idea is to offer consumers the lowest airfare (for example) to a destination then more consolidator fares have to be to added to the results. Consolidator fares – bulk fares you can purchase that come with a lot of restrictions for a lower price than the airline direct rate – are included in the search results to some degree with Cheaptickets.com and Orbitz but I would like to see more tier 2 online travel agencies added to the mix.

Are you telling me there isn’t a $25M hybrid travel agency/consolidator specializing in consolidator fares to India that can’t be added to the mix every time I search Los Angeles Delhi? Of course there is. Why? Solely to drive down the cost for the end traveler.

I realize integrating consolidator fares is more complicated than airline direct rates but these are obstacles aggregators can overcome. I realize airlines are not going to be jumping up and down as they watch their wholesale channel competing side by side with their retail channel but something has to be worked out. I’m aware that some aggregators are offering private inventory (which just as well could be consolidator fares) so steps are being taken.

My point is, allow a few big tier 2 sites into the results or integrate them for select international destinations and leave them out where they don’t have a strong footprint like domestic fares within the USA. Consolidator fares do save consumers money and this product type needs to be included.

NOW WHAT?

As a traveler, you need to understand these inventory gaps and explore alternatives in the meantime.

Peace of mind. That’s a key pain point everybody booking a ticket faces. Am I getting the best deal. How do I eliminate or reduce that little voice questioning what else is out there? I would book this if I was just more confident that I’m searching everything that applies to my trip.

  • Search consolidator fare sites or ask your travel agency if they have them.
  • Search no frills airlines like FlyDubai and AirAsia.
  • Pay attention to airlines that are added to the mix with your favorite travel aggregator.
  • Use Google, Twitter or Facebook to request what no frills airlines service a city .
  • I would advocate searching more than one travel aggregator.

By all means use travel aggregators. They save you time and money. I use them. Just realize travel aggregators act as one tool and not the only tool in your travel toolbox.

All the best and happy travels.

Sounds simple enough but isn’t always the case. And the % really drops if you’re searching outside of the United States.
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This entry was posted in Travel Trade, Travellers and tagged , , , , , by Abrar. Bookmark the permalink.

About Abrar

Welcome to the narration of whatever is piquing my interest. I spent the first 6 years of my professional life in software development and project management at a start-up, a 10 person consulting company and ultimately reporting to the C.I.O. for a Fortune 150 conglomerate. I've spent the last 9 years in travel the travel industry: 2 years in managing travel technology projects (the systems travelers use like booking engines and fare databases) and the remaining 7 years in business development at an online travel agency specializing in international travel. I truly enjoyed growing from 2 people and near zero sales to a multi-national travel agency with an offshore call center, deploying an overseas sales office, securing key corporate clients, implementing strategic relationships within the travel industry and embracing technology as best we could afford to do. I stepped away from a day to day role in 2006 and have since specialized in advising companies in and outside of the travel industry on what to do and what not to do as they expand. My personal interests include international travel, reading books and spending time with family and friends. I love business, I love travel and I love technology.

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